Australia is the largest island – and smallest continent – on earth. Many of the people who live there are from families that moved there from the United Kingdom, so many of the traditions are similar; however, the weather is completely opposite. Rather than celebrating Christmas in the middle of winter, Australians celebrate during their summer vacation (although there are some who choose to celebrate Christmas in July – which allows them to have a winter Christmas).
Christmas and Boxing Day (which shows the United Kingdom’s influence), which occur on December 25 and 26, are national holidays which allow employees to have a paid day off work. Even though these dates fall in the middle of summer, decorations in Australia tend to be the common winter-based things such as Santa Clause wearing fur in a sleigh, the songs about winter and snow, and picture and scenery with snowy background (though in larger scenery, the snow is either missing or fake).
Despite this, there are still many traditions that commonly are observed during the holiday season in Australia. Some of these are indoor and some are outdoor despite the heat.
As the US has football, Australia has cricket. This sport is much followed and enjoyed, and a game in the backyard with extended family members can be a fun way to pass an afternoon. Since Christmas Day is a national holiday, it is likely that enough family members will be available to work up a nice game in the back yard.
It is also possible that a game may pop up in quiet neighborhoods, on the street, with neighbors joining in a friendly competition.
While gifts are given on Christmas Day in most cases, that is not the only day that gifts are given in Australia. On Boxing Day (December 26), it is tradition to offer monetary gifts to people who perform services throughout the year, such as mail and newspaper carriers, tradespeople, domestic help, and similar people in service-related businesses.
Carols by Candlelight
Often considered the most important tradition in Australia, this one is what many say makes the holiday, and smaller celebrations are not considered complete unless they include this. On Christmas Eve, after dark, people gather with lit candles and sing Christmas carols together. The state capitols have much larger attendance and often bring in famous vocal artists. These celebrities have included John Farnham, Colin Gery, Anthony Warlow, Niki Webster, The Wiggles, and more. Many of these are shown on television throughout the country. Smaller locations may include local bands and singers.
Like in the northern hemisphere, the Christmas decorations in Australia are winter-themed most of the time. Christmas trees are not uncommon and they are often festooned with twinkling lights. Lights in the yards and on the houses are sometimes the subject of competition, and street displays are found in many areas. Instead of holly, Australians use “Christmas Bush” which is a tree with green leaves and flowers that start out cream-colored but turn very red and shiny by Christmas. Poinsettia plants are as popular in Australia as in the US.
Geelong, a waterfront city, hosts the Christmas Festival of Lights. Their light displays include motion, fairy tales, and other scenery, using over a million lights.
Festive Road Trips
Because family may live at a distance and because there are many areas of the country with specific Christmas events, road trips around Christmas are a tradition for many people. Some of the places people may go include:
- Adelaide: Santa’s Wonderland
Christmas Nights, Festive Lights is one of the biggest things in Adelaide. From December 13-23, the Victoria Square is full of “fairy lights.” They offer food trucks, live music, an outdoor movie, and a giant LEGO sleigh!
- Flinders Ranges
A part of the outback, Flinders Ranges are reminiscent of Mars, with red dusty roads and ancient cliffs.
- The Grand Pacific Drive
140 kilometers of coastal road travels through rainforest, over the Sea Cliff Bridge, and through several coastal cities, townships, and communities.
- Great Barrier Reef Drive
On the north side of Australia, in Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef Drive is 140 kilometers directly north from Cairns. Many World Heritage, national parks, and resort sites are along this route, as well as holiday towns and rainforests.
- The Great Ocean Road
On the southeast side, the Great Ocean Road traverses 243 kilometers along the coast between Torquay and Allansford in Victoria. The roadway was built by soldiers after World War I and is dedicated to the soldiers lost in that war, making it the largest war memorial in the world.
- Wellington Square, Perth
Christmas Lunch in the Park is a festive Christmas event enjoyed by many people, both Perth natives and guests to the city. Every year, Mission Australia hosts this lunch, which offers sustenance and hope to those who are homeless, vulnerable, or disadvantaged. Families who are able to help can donate a plate or money or they can volunteer to help make and serve the lunch.
Lunch by the Beach
Summertime is a perfect time for a beach party, and since Christmas Day happens in the summer, beach parties are one of the traditions. Much of the time, this occurs at lunch time, with beachfront barbecues (tossing something on “the barbie” is a stereotype based on fact), surfing, and swimming. Dessert is often pavlova, a dessert that was invented in Australia in the 1920s.
One of the nicer feasts during the season is the prawn feast. Many Australian households send someone to pick up some prawns (shrimp) to have on Christmas Day or Boxing Day.
Most countries have a version of Santa Claus and Australia is no exception. He often shows up on a surfboard, and may be wearing the traditional red suit, or he may be wearing board shorts, flip flops, and a red hat, depending on the location and the person portraying him.